Daniel Gordis has written a number of books and countless articles about Israel, but it wasn’t until he began writing his recently published book, “Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn,” that he realized something profound about the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. “It hit me even deeper than it ever had before that you can’t tell the story of the Jewish people without telling the story of the relationship of the Jewish people and this land,” said Gordis.
Both as an author, a speaker, and as a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, he is regularly writing and talking about the Jewish State, where he moved in 1998. His ties to Israel seem analogous to those of the Jewish people. “This country is an incredibly important progress for the Jewish people but also a very important model to the western world,” said Gordis.
“It became clear to me when telling the story how much the centrality of the land in the Bible stories of the Jewish people has been a core part of what Israel has been about,” said Gordis.
The relationship can be traced back to the Bible in Genesis when God tells Abraham to leave his homeland and go to the place that He will show him. The first word God says to the first Jew is go to that land. “The land is actually kind of a character in the Bible,” said Gordis.
Though Chapter 1 of his book starts in 1897 with the First Zionist Congress, Chapter 2, titled “Some Spot of a Native Land,” goes back several thousand years. It traces through the history of the Jewish people and their interaction with the land. Gordis illustrates the seemingly unbreakable connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. He wrote, “The genius of the Jewish tradition was that in their liturgy and holidays, the Jews invoked the past in a way that made it seem present and real. No matter what they did, said, or thought about, the land of Israel remained their central focus. When they prayed, three times each day, they faced Jerusalem.”
The inspiration to write the book occurred three years ago, when Barry Shrage was planning a group trip to Israel. Shrage, president of CJP, asked Gordis to recommend a book about the country’s background that was readable, accurate, and hopefully inspirational. Gordis was sure he could find something by the end of the day, but no such book could be found. “I asked Danny for a good concise text for a group of CJP mission participants several years ago. The History he wrote exceeded all of my expectations,” said Shrage.
“There are some really wonderful one volume histories of Israel out there,” said Gordis, citing Howard Sachar, Martin Gilbert, and Anita Shapira as examples. However, they are all extremely lengthy. “People are not going to read that kind of book,” said Gordis. Turning to Amazon and the Internet hoping for a history of Israel he hadn’t yet read, he came to the realization that it simply didn’t exist. “It struck me that there was a kind of crying need for a book that would be accurate, fair, middle of the road politically and also just a good read,” said Gordis.
This realization is what inspired him to write his recently published book, which went on-sale on October 18. “Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn,” is an important book from one of our great Jewish scholars and activists. Danny Gordis brings to the historian’s task a firm grip on Jewish tradition and sources and a deep love of the Jewish people. He is one of my most important teachers and mentors,” said Shrage. The challenge of writing this book, according to Gordis, was in deciding what kind of story he wanted to tell.
“I really did not want this to be a book about the conflict,” said Gordis. In his mind, everyone thinks of Israel in the 1940s and 50s, which he finds comparable to thinking of the United States in terms of 1776 or its war history. “Those are all important things but they’re not what defines America,” said Gordis.
“I wanted to tell a story so that people who read the book would actually understand what Israel is really all about,” said Gordis. This brought him to his next challenge, of how to answer the questions: What is Israel all about? And what is the Jewish State’s story? He decided to write it as a story of the Jewish people returning to their ancestral homeland as a kind of rebirth of Jewish people, Jewish creativity, and Jewish consciousness that happens when a people is reunited with their land and with their language.
In addition to having a love for writing, he cares very deeply about Israel and wants to do what he can to improve it. “I think each person that moves here has to ask themselves, ‘What can I do to make a contribution to the state of Israel?’” While Gordis is currently working to build Israel’s first Liberal Arts College, he also uses his skilled writing and speaking abilities to reach out to wide audiences to try to tell the story of Israel in the way, in his mind, it needs to be told. “Fundamentally, Israel is a country that values the importance of the survival of the Jewish people, it believes that it can be woven, if not seamlessly, then very well into democracy, and is not embarrassed about defending itself when it needs to.”